Evolving Your DJ Setup

While having a DJ gear setup you can rely on is great, getting stuck in familiar patterns can lead to predictable live performances. In this tutorial Sara Simms explores how to evolve your DJ setup.  
Photos by: Alex Demanin and Alona Penton-Power

In DJing, it's important to push yourself forward and advance your DJ setup. If you've been working with the same DJ setup for a long time, it's time to step into new territory. Although the tried and true feels comfortable, a new piece of equipment will present challenges and inspire you to make different creative decisions during your sets. Breakthroughs in DJing and music can come as a result of using new equipment. If you're open to venturing into new uncharted DJ territory, read on.

Get a Move On 

There's a time to use your old mixer and turntables and appreciate them for what they are and how they've served your needs. If you're still using the same pair of decks after ten or fifteen years, then it's time to evaluate whether your DJ setup is with or behind the times. Go to a DJ trade show, head down to your local DJ shop and read Ask.Audio's DJ gear reviews to find out about equipment that's current. If your setup looks like it's from the 90s, then it's definitely time to upgrade. 

Planning for the Future  

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Before taking any of your hard-earned bread out of the bank account, consider your own DJing goals and the types of gigs you regularly play. It's also important to look further down the road; what kind of gigs would you like to be playing in a year? In five years? When examining your DJ aspirations, you should be considering if you'd like to use turntables, CDJs, controllers or a combination. Remember to ask yourself questions like: Does your DJ setup need to be portable? Are you interested in incorporating your own productions into your set in a creative way? How important is the look and style of the gear you will invest in? Lastly (and sometimes this is the most important question) what's your budget for upgrading equipment? Make a list of present and foreseeable future DJ needs, so you can decide what it is you want in your setup. 

Be Yourself 

No matter what type of DJ you are, there's always an aspect of the art form that you improve upon. If you're a mobile DJ, are you using the latest CDJ's and mixer and do you know how to use all of the features on them? One big consideration that mobile DJs have is portability. A mobile DJ's equipment must be transported in protective cases, and these cases need to be properly insulated. One way for mobile DJs to evolve their setup is to invest in modern equipment that can be easily brought to venues and events. Budget-wise, mobile DJs who upgrade their setups will need to factor in the costs of flight cases. 

If you're a club DJ, and you're using Traktor or another DJ software, are you taking advantage of new file formats like STEMS or Remix decks? The latest digital DJing programs and mixers offer many effects. Learn how to use at least a few of the effects and invest in a controller that will allow you to use them. It may also be a good idea to use a customized mapping for the controller, like the type that are made by MIDI Monsters. If you're musically adventurous, there are many exciting options for DJs like touch screen technologies. It could also be a lot of fun to incorporate a drum machine, like the Roland AIRA TR-8 into your setup. The TR-8 gives DJs the power to improvise during sets, and elongate rhythmic phrases. 

If you're more of a turntablist, controllerist or even hobby DJ, are you using current turntables and a DJ mixer that gives you creative mixing options? Maybe you'd like to try incorporating a MIDI controller that allows you to trigger samples and play melodies. Have a look at see what the top competitors in the Red Bull Thre3Style and DMC competitions are using to give you some new ideas. 

Technological Innovations 

In any industry, keeping up with the times is the very least you can do. It's important that your setup is current, your software is the latest version and that you're using a computer that's up to date and running properly. Keep yourself informed and be aware of new technological advancements in DJing by reading online (Ask.Audio is a great resource!) watching tutorial videos and seeing what the Pro DJs use. Be open to using new technologies in your DJ sets, even if it means spending additional time to learn how to use these devices. Technology exists to help us grow as DJs and presents creative opportunities. If you're completely unsure about how to use a new piece of technology, watch my DJ tutorial videos or find a local DJ teacher who can assist you.

Choose Wisely 

Just because something is new, doesn't mean it's good. If you're investing in new equipment, make sure the quality is good. Choose reputable brands (Pioneer DJ and Native Instruments consistently produce solid equipment choices) and buy a few choice pieces for your setup. If you're unsure, renting or leasing a piece of more expensive equipment might be a good idea to find out if it's right for you. Take time at home to practice on the setup before trying it out at a gig or performance. Practice makes perfect!

Evolving your DJ setup is a lifelong activity, and it's important to find new ways to keep your hobby (or job) interesting and fresh. Have fun on your quest, and here's hoping you discover a new piece of equipment that will help you to sound amazing!

Photos by: Alex Demanin and Alona Penton-Power


Sara Simms captivates the world as an innovative musician, DJ, turntablist and electronic music producer. She's a multi-instrumentalist who's known for her love of music technology. Sara makes her mark in the music community by crafting diverse sets with styles ranging from pulsating techno to house. She balances technical skills wi... Read More


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